Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
Book Review (no spoilers)
Dealing in Dreams is a very unique, intimate dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA novel. Several tropes get turned on their head, and we get a good look at how beauty can be found in even the worst of circumstances.
Nalah--who usually goes by the name Chief Rocka--is born into the brutally violent matriarchal Mega City, where seven-year-old girls are recruited into military camps and teenagers being beaten to death is the norm. It's a TERF's* paradise, and Nalah has swallowed the lies fed to her hook, line and sinker.
We get a handful of very distinct, diverse characters. Each crew has a maximum of five members, and Nalah encounters maybe half a dozen more named characters in her journey. Several of these characters fall into the LGBTQ+ category, including a genderfluid singer who has several things to say about how Mega City is structured. Nalah interacts with all of them, getting more angry and confused as their lives directly contradict what she's been told by Mega City.
Everything is told through Nalah's points of first, in first person. This means she dominates the prose, and the whole novel is told in short, direct, punchy sentences. There's hardly any metaphors and no flowery prose because that's not how Nalah talks. She's direct and to the point.
Nalah herself is a contradictory character. She's a gang leader, which makes her violent and cut-throat. But she's also got a softer side as she tries to protect her crew and bring all of them to the Towers so they can all have a better life. She's shrewd and calculating, as she has to maneuver a couple of political situations on top of everything else, but her goals and dreams are plain for everyone to see.
Most dystopians have a problem in that they put their characters in only one or two types situations, thus limiting how many different sides of a character the reader gets to see. Rivera circumvents this problem by putting Nalah in several different situations: in a physical fight, negotiating a ransom, relaxing in a bathhouse/strip club, in the presence of her hero, in the presence of her blood relatives, winning, failing, everything.
Honestly, my only serious complaint about this novel is that the resolution was too long. After the climax, it needed only two chapters, max: immediate fall-out and recovery. But the story itself is a difficult one to end, so I'm not torn up about it. Rivera did not write a traditional dystopian novel where the spunky group of protagonists work to topple the evil overlord and put someone else in charge. That's not the central conflict, and it's not what we as readers are necessarily waiting to happen. The core of the story is entirely on Nalah: can she accept the reality of the world, and can she keep her crew safe?
I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys YA dystopians, but is tired of all the whitewashing (everyone here is Latino), the unrealistically sudden end to all-powerful authoritarian regimes (doesn't happen), and/or tiring romantic subplots that take up too many pages (there is none where Nalah is concerned).
*TERF: stands for "Transgender-Exclusive Radical Feminist." Basically, they're transphobes who pretend to be feminists.
Hi readers! I'm Jacqui Greaves, and I am thrilled to be handed the reins to Dragons, Zombies and Aliens for today. I’m going to take you on a journey to explore the weird parts of my brain that produce my works of sexy science fiction and fantasy. So, if you're under 18, now would be a good time to go and do something else.
I started writing about five years ago after careers in childcare (short-lived and miserable), marine biology, science management, and deer farming. I've published several short stories, two novellas, and a novel (more about that later). Some are science fiction and others are fantasy, but most are weird combinations of the two. What they all have in common in sex. Often very explicit sex.
To be specific, by sex I mean the physical act of sex, not the emotional state of intimacy. In writing sex I’m describing actions, sensations and influences, not feelings. This is why I've stopped saying I write erotica, because there's such a strong association between erotica and romance. I don't write romance, and my works seldom have happy endings. I also don't call what I write porn, because it's not exploitative. Unlike in most porn, the sex I write is part of the narrative, but is not the story. Sometimes I describe what I write as Lusterature, but really I just write explicit sex.
When I started writing I didn't set out to write sex. I wanted to write fantasy and science fiction, the types of stories I like to read. Despite my efforts the sex just crept in, so I let it stay.
Why? Well that’s a fine question, and I’m glad you asked!
Because, while there are some people who don’t (yes, asexuals, I acknowledge you), lots of us engage in, think about or hanker after sex pretty much daily--more for some, less for others. There’s a strong biological imperative to engage in sex, and as humans many of us start to experiment with it earlier than we’d like to admit. For most of us, sex is, and should be, an enjoyable experience without shame. But that isn’t always the case, and for me, as a writer, that’s great.
By adding sex into the mix of my speculative fiction I can explore a whole suite of character traits and behaviours that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. It permits me a wider vocabulary and an additional range of sensations and senses to describe. Sex brings with it, its own joys, disappointments, dangers and delights. When mixed into a speculative world, it adds a richness and depth, even an element of reality if you will.
So then, what differentiates good sex writing from bad sex writing?
For starters, sex has to be anatomically and physically possible. It “might” be possible to fuck someone in the arse and suck their clitoris at the same time…but it’s highly unlikely! A scene like that would most likely make you stop reading while you tried to imagine how it could be achieved, but the aim of the writer is to keep you reading. Anything that makes you stop is bad. I once read a scene where the male twisted the woman’s boobs like doorknobs (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the picture). It just made me wince, roll my eyes and stop reading.
Unlike other genres, Science Fiction gives the writer opportunities to stretch what is anatomically possible with the introduction of aliens. The short story, "Spar" by KIJ Johnson, is an award-winning example of great interspecies sex with seemingly incompatible anatomies. The opening line alone tells us so much: “In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.”
(Honestly, do yourself a favour and read the full story, here’s the link: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/johnson_10_09/ )
Overuse of clichés and euphemisms are also sure signs of poor sex writing. If you read a cock/penis described as a beaver cleaver, love truncheon, or towering pillar of manhood, my advice is to hurl that book away. Unless it’s a parody, in which case giggle on!
Having said that, readers of fantasy are often more accepting of highly descriptive language. As an example, G.R.R. Martin uses more florid descriptors of body parts than I would, but he gets away with it because we expect it of him.
As for any scene in a story or novel, a sex scene must have a purpose. It should reveal something about the plot, characters, or their relationships. Sex can be used to explore power dynamics, reveal secrets, show attitudes, and define moral frameworks. And, unlike other story elements, sex can be used to arouse the reader. This is the magic of sex.
Gods of Fire
Gods of Fire is my first full length novel. A historical fantasy, it centers around Guillaume, an elf of mixed race.
Sentenced to death as an infant by his grandfather then abandoned by his mother, Guillaume grows up with no idea of who or what he is. All he understands is that he has a voracious sexual appetite and the power to render himself irresistible to any woman he desires. His life is thrown into turmoil when his full powers are revealed in a violent display of fire and murder. Forced to leave the only home he has known, Guillaume sets forth to unravel the mystery of his heritage. His quest takes him through France and deep into Africa. As his powers grow, only his lifelong companion, Smoke, can help him control the depraved primal urges that threaten to overwhelm him. When Smoke loses her influence, it’s not only the lives of those close to him that are threatened. Can the world survive the ancient being that Guillaume becomes?
Gods of Fire is on sale at most of your favourite online bookstores via Books2Read.
About Jacqui Greaves
Jacqui has lived an adventure-filled life, spanning a range of careers and countries. She’s wrangled kindergarten children, driven buses, researched humpback whales, spoken at the United Nations, visited Antarctica, farmed deer and, most recently, written strange and sexy fiction. A New Zealander, currently living by the beach in Melbourne but on the move back to NZ, Jacqui has two novella’s published in the PNRLust Anthologies and several short stories in online publications. Gods of Fire is her first full length novel.
Summer is finally here! For those of you who have been suffering Mother Nature's wintry wrath with me in the Midwest, this has been a long time coming.
Now, it used to be that summer meant a lot more free time for me. School was out, I didn't have any bills or rent to pay, and only a handful of extra curricular activities to keep me on my toes. Therefore, I had a lot of time to read books that weren't dry, outdated school texts. And I loved it!
These days, at age 23, it's a little different. Namely that I have a job instead of school, which doesn't end just because the weather's nice enough for a beach ball. Summer really just means dodging construction on the way to work.
Still, there's something about summer that calls for a certain kind of book. Most people gravitate toward "cozy" or, as I like to call them, "fluffy" novels. I usually go more toward YA in general, content be damned.
So with that in mind, here are my top seven recommendations for sci-fi and fantasy YA novels (or, I should say, novel series) for you to read this summer. They're in no particular order.
Literally Everything by Rick Riordan
It's been a while since I've sung Riordan's praises. If you don't know, Rick Riordan wrote The Percy Jackson series, a five-book middle grade/YA book series about Greek gods and their children in modern New York. This was quickly followed by The Heroes of Olympus series, then a brief trespass into Norse mythology with the Magnus Chase trilogy, and is now being wrapped up by the ongoing Trials of Apollo series. (He's also got a thing with Egyptian gods, but I haven't read that yet.)
Be warned: while Riordan's stuff is generally funny and light-hearted, each book has some pretty heavy moments. And the series overall gets a bit darker as you go on. This is probably because the characters--and subsequent audience--are all growing up and thus are dealing with more adult things. The latest book, The Burning Maze, even killed off a beloved major character from Heroes of Olympus.
You can read a fuller review of one of the Magnus Chase books here, as well as two Trials of Apollo books here and here.
Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J. Maas
I've written mixed reviews about Maas's Throne of Glass series. On one hand, the story itself is incredible, the world-building is insane, and the characters are very well-written. On the other hand, there are way too many goddamn romantic subplots, and Maas stopped killing off major characters when she should have at around book four. Not that there isn't any angst in later books; there is a shit ton of angst. But it's also undermined by last-minute saves and plot armor keeping everyone alive, if miserable.
Throne of Glass is also technically adult. It's one of those books that they market as teen and young adult and starts off that way, but right around book five is when you get to definitely adult, so fair warning on that.
Still, all of the books are an excellent read and a great way to hide from the sun this season.
The Spectre War Series by Margaret Fortune
So far there are two books out of this five-book sci-fi series. I won't go into what it's actually about because that's a major spoiler for book one, Nova (spoiler-free review here), so I'm sorry if this is a little vague.
Basically, it's way in the future, with spaceships and stations and whatnot, and some telepaths for kicks and giggles. Each book is an intense mystery that the main character (who that is changes with each book, by the way, which is really cool) has to solve before time runs out and everything goes boom. Literally. This has varying degrees of success; the characters do fail on several occasions, making it extremely intense.
In book one, our MC Lia is essentially a human bomb with no memory, sent to blow up a space station, except she turns out to be a dud. Problem is, duds can still go off, you just don't know when. So she has to figure out who she is, why she was sent to destroy the space station, and maybe figure out a way not to blow up.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
This is the first book of a series, and I haven't gotten to the other books yet. It's an excellent YA fantasy that satirizes fairy tales while also doing homage to the genre.
The idea is that every major figure in fairy tales--Cinderella and her prince, Jack and the giant of the beanstalk, Snow White and the evil queen, etc.--all went to the same school, the School for Good and Evil, where they were explicitly taught how to be good or evil, depending on which side they were on. While that sounds fun on paper, the school itself is cruel and ruthless, eve on the "good" side, where the punishment for failure is cringe-worthy even to the bad guys.
Two girls from the same isolated town--Sophie and Agatha--get snatched up to go to this school (by the way, recruitment isn't exactly voluntary). While Sophie believes herself to be "sugar and spice and everything nice," she ends up on the "evil" side while goth queen Agatha is forced to the Barbie-ized "good" side. While trying to figure out an escape, they end up blurring the lines between the two in more ways than one.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakwa
This is a fantasy manga (Japanese comic) that ended up becoming two animes (Japanese shows). If you want to watch the anime, go with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, because it actually follows the manga, has more episodes, and has a much better ending.
In this world, the magic used is a rigid system of alchemy taught to an educated few that are almost all immediately recruited into the military of the dictatorship country of Amestris. The whole thing has a dieselpunk feel to it, and mechanical limbs are a common sight.
The two main characters--the Elric brothers (Ed and Al)--broke a strict taboo in alchemy by trying to bring back their dead mother. The attempt failed, and left Ed down an arm and a leg and Al's soul stuck to a suit of armor. Now they travel all over Amestris trying to find the Philosopher's Stone, which they believe will restore their bodies.
Kind of like Riordan: it's both goofy and heavy. If you like more science-based magic systems, then this is definitely the series for you. You can read it for free at MangaPanda.com.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I went into a pretty in-depth (spoiler free!) review of Dread Nation already here, so I'll make this quick.
In the real world, the American Civil War lasted four years, which were then followed by the Reconstruction period. The Reconstruction period was supposed to piece everything back together and move on from the slavery and racism thing, and it failed pretty spectacularly.
In Ireland's world, the American Civil War was interrupted by zombies.
Eighteen years later, and the country is teetering on the brink of collapse, trying to fight armies of the undead while pretending everything is fine. It's very much like the meme:
The Nemesis Series by April Daniels
Also reviewed on this blog, the Nemesis series centers around Danny Tozer, a transgender superhero who has to deal with both the rotating supervillains of the week and a steady stream of transphobia. Oh, and anger and self-confidence issues due to the emotionally abusive upbringing. And being a teenager.
So far there are only two books, and I'm holding out hope that there will be more. Daniels manages to address several social issues without coming across as preachy, and book two ends with the beginnings of a really promising team of teenage superheroes.
What are your favorite YA summer reads? Let me know in the comments!
J.D. Richards is the author of the space opera The Blue Jewel. He works with his wife Corina Richards, founder of Macska Designs, who illustrates the book covers and chapter headings.
Sci-Fi Author J.D. Richards
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
I’ve been working on a noir-esque novel called The Emerald Princess. It's set in the same universe as The Blue Jewel, though several years later in the timeline and not meant to be a direct sequel. I’m not ready to put my little characters into harm’s way again just yet!
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
I write under the pen name J. D. Richards, though my full name is Jeffrey David Richards. I’m a systems engineer by profession, and have always signed engineering drawings and technical reports as J. D., so writing fiction as J. D. felt natural.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’m treading deeper into those waters with The Emerald Princess. There are some true villains in The Blue Jewel, but to write about someone truly despicable requires more of an examination of their inner id which is uncomfortable in general. I feel there is more room for that in a gloomy noir-style of writing as opposed to a more upbeat space opera such as The Blue Jewel.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I like to read books that challenge my perspective, especially those that explore a character’s dramatic transformation. I love reading about what motivates people, and investigating the cause-and-effect of their lives. If a character is acting contrary to their persona for no reason or without incentive I end up putting the book down. As a writer I try to make a character’s actions and persona congruent over their story-arc.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
The overarching conflict in The Blue Jewel is rooted in the time period just before the Spanish-American War, but with the story told from the perspective of the Cuban rebels. I love to learn about history, and the late 1800’s / early 1900’s time period is fascinating to me. So much of the post-colonialism era still shapes how our modern world functions - everything from the poor disaster response after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, to Brexit, to the simmering hostility between the US and Iran. The stories remain human, and they remain relevant.
What did you edit out of your book?
In an early draft I made the mistake of having my main character announce in the beginning of Act III to the other characters what they planned on doing to solve all the world’s problems. My editor was wise to point out that is a good way to write a crummy book. Once my embarrassment subsided, I cleaned up Act III and let the MC’s plan simply unfold step by step to keep the reader in suspense. The book shines a lot brighter now, and Act III is much more fun. Man I felt like an idiot when I got my editor’s markups, but that bit of editing made all the difference.
Everyone feels like an idiot once their editor gets done with them. That's what editors do.
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about? Why?
I would like to research how the perception of responsibility is shifting contrary to reality with respect to humans and artificial intelligence. It is easy to think that with all the progress in self-driving cars and smart bots like Siri or Alexa we can let the robots do all the work, but we do such a crummy job now of taking care of the dumb machines we already have! How many miles over do we go before finally getting that oil changed? When was the last time we actually checked on the smoke detector battery, or cleaned out our automatic water heater in our house? We still can’t even seem to keep our cell phones charged when we need them. The more we ask our machines to do, the more care and maintenance is required (ever have a dirty back-up camera lens on your car?), but the more I’m afraid the maintenance will go neglected. Maybe I will write about that topic. . . .
So, basically a "Here's why the robot uprising is going to happen" textbook. Fun times...
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Writers don’t write for the money. Writing is about communicating a private thought with the reader, and being hungry for reviews isn’t about wanting positive affirmation but rather a desire to deepen the connection with the reader. Sending out messages in a bottle is fun, but occasionally getting one back is nice too, even if the ocean between us is big. Even a small review can go a long way to keep the fire burning for the writer.
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
Do not assume your imagination as a writer is deeper than that of your reader. Only write what you need to connect with the reader and tell your story. The fun in reading is for the reader to do the rest.
If you could have a dinner with one fictional person, who would it be? Why?
I would like to have dinner with Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I feel like we have the same energy and would get along pretty well.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
I would like to compose music and write songs. I love playing the guitar, but don’t really consider myself a musician. I just plink along to someone else’s songs, but would love to write my own.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I used to be licensed to transport nuclear waste in the State of Texas.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
1) Show some grace.
2) Seek to develop empathy.
3) Be more forgiving.
J. D. Richards lives in southern Arizona with his wife, their son, and their two Russian Blue cats. When he is not writing, he enjoys playing guitar, riding bikes, and watching college basketball.
You can connect with him on his website here, and you can purchase his book The Blue Jewel on Amazon here.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
No spoilers. (Promise.)
I've read and reviewed one of Nnedi Okorafor's other books before: her short sci-fi novel Lagoon about mystical aliens touching down in Nigeria. I was enraptured by her storytelling, and when I found out she had other books--many of them bestsellers--I added all of them to my wishlist, and had the opportunity to purchase Who Fears Death thanks to a Barnes & Noble gift card I got for Christmas. I had high expectations for Who Fears Death because of everything I'd heard, both about it and about Okorafor herself.
And I was not disappointed.
It's rare--or at least, rare for me in my little corner of America--to find popular SFF books that have a post-apocalyptic or fantasy setting outside of the U.S., or even Europe. So the setting itself of a fantastical, post-apocalyptic Africa was intriguing to me. I wish Okorafor had gone into just what, exactly the apocalypse was that completely reshaped the world and set up whole new religions and ethnicities, or even just the history of the world in general. We're given the religious version that everyone is told growing up and that main character Onye has little respect for, but not a definitive This is what happened, and this is why the world works this way now. But that's probably just the history major in me.
The magic system used is very unique and interesting. It's a soft magic system, which is the kind that basically allows the author to make it up as they go along (kind of like Tolkien or Game of Thrones), compared to the hard magic system where the rules are explained and strictly adhered to (i.e. Avatar: the Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist). But while Onye and the other sorcerers' powers are many and varied, there's no deux ex machina that goes on. She still has limitations, especially in the beginning when she has no control.
The story itself starts out pretty slow. Onye is obviously very special and eventually has to set out to topple the unjust system of oppression and war that her mother's people is subjected to. But she and her friends don't start their journey until halfway through the book. The first half is Onye coming to terms with who and what she is (for the most part, at least), worldbuilding, and describing the struggles and conflicts between Onye, her mother, and everyone around them. So even though the pacing of the overarching story is very slow, there's still a lot that goes on that kept me turning the pages.
Oh, and in case you didn't get the hint from the book description, this story is not something to flippantly give to children. More on this later.
There are a lot of characters here. While the entire story is told in first person point of view by Onye, she runs into a lot of characters. There's her beau, Mwita, another sorcerer who knows more about magic but isn't as powerful as she is and functions as team healer. She has three best girlfriends, her mentors, her mother, her stepfather, and of course, her rapist father. Who is a real piece of work. Just...wow.
All of these characters are deeply flawed. Onye has some severe anger issues that are a direct result of how horribly her society treats her and her mother, leading her to do several things that she almost immediately regrets. The friends she sets out on her journey with turn out to be less than ideal travel companions, given that half of them abandon the quest out of fear. (Though the one that sticks around, while not magical in any way, is a total badass.) Mwita himself has some inferiority complexes. I mentioned that he's not as powerful as Onye is, and while it's clear that these two characters deeply love and go to great lengths for each other, Mwita has some sexist views that come out every now and then. He believes that he should be the sorcerer while Onye hangs back as the healer. Needless to say, this is a bit of a conflict between the two of them.
In addition to expert storytelling, captivating worldbuilding, and engaging characters, Okorafor also weaves in several themes throughout this story. And when I say several, I mean all of them. I thought I was impressed by how many topics she was able to cover in Lagoon, but that's nothing compared to when she has an extra three hundred pages to play around with. Who Fears Death unflinchingly talks about rape, war, slavery, genital mutilation, misogyny, racism, religion and tradition used as tools of oppression, love, hope, death, and probably a dozen others that I missed in my first reading or just can't think of right now.
Bottom line, this is an amazing book. It is a bold, beautiful story that deserves to be on bookshelves everywhere.
DZA Marie's personal favorite romantic subplots in sci-fi and fantasy
Ah, early February. Living in Minnesota, I can see why Hallmark decided this was the prime time to start a romantic holiday: it's too cold outside to do anything other than snuggle with your significant other. (-50 degree windchill. Thanks, climate change.)
Now obviously, in the spirit of the holiday, the next couple of blog posts and this month's video will be relationship-oriented. However, I do not read romance novels. I read romance fanfiction, but in my movies and published novels I vastly prefer hard sci-fi and fantasy. Luckily (or unluckily, as this month's YouTube video will argue) you cannot open an SFF book or movie without there being at least a 95% chance of a romantic subplot popping up. And while most of them are very annoying and have no place in the story at all, some of them are downright adorable.
So, I have gathered a list of my personal favorite romantic subplots in the sci-fi, fantasy and superhero genres. They're not really in any particular order, and the biggest qualification is it has to make me go "Awwww" with a bare minimum of eye-rolling.
Nakia & T'Challa (Black Panther)
Most blockbuster movies with romantic subplots--especially superhero movies--tend to either ignore the woman's growth and character development, or make said growth and development all about the love and romance she bares for the hero.
This is not the case with Black Panther. Nakia is a fully fleshed-out badass who doesn't have so much of a narrative arc so much as the moral of, "Bitch, you should have listened to me from the start. Would've saved you a lot of trouble and Killmonger wouldn't have had a chance."
Also noteworthy is the fact that, at the time the movie starts, Nakia and T'Challa are exes. And while it's clear that T'Challa still has strong feelings for her, he does not whine and cry about it. They both act like adults, both respect each other, and they have a strong friendship that they then use to re-build their romance. (While they never go into it, I'm pretty sure the break-up came from clashing ideologies and world paths. Nakia wanted to go out and save the world, T'Challa wanted to hide behind his vibranium walls. That's not going to create a very stable relationship.)
Rapunzel & Eugene (Tangled)
Disney has several really good relationships, especially in recent years: Tiana and Prince Naveen, Kristophe and Anna, Mulan and Captain Shang...but my favorite is Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider). A lot of it has to do with Eugene's character development. Rapunzel manages to influence and change him into a better person, without going out of her way to "save" him. In fact, no romance starts until most of this change happens. At the same time, Eugene helps and encourages Rapunzel into taking charge of her own destiny.
Then there's the fact that Disney broke its own "married within three days of meeting each other" rule in order to clearly state that Eugene and Rapunzel didn't get married until years after the fact. Rushed marriages rarely work. Cinderella and Prince Charming probably got divorced three months after their wedding. But Rapunzel and Eugene? That's going to last forever.
Also, "You were my new dream." *cries*
Will Solace & Nico di Angelo (Percy Jackson series)
This relationship doesn't actually get started until the very, very end of The Blood of Olympus (book five in the Heroes of Olympus series), and we only see pieces of it in the first Trials of Apollo book. It's utterly adorable and one of the few romantic subplots that I really, really want to see more of.
This one gets points for being an LGBT relationship rather than the usual hetero stuff, without it being such a big freaking deal. We find out Nico is gay and had a crush on Percy in House of Hades, both of which he tried to ruthlessly squash down (the kid's from the 1930s, so it was definitely ones of those yikes moments for him). Blood of Olympus is him not only coming to terms with his sexuality, but also coming to terms with who he is as a person. You see, the son of Hades has had it in his head for a long time that nobody likes him, people are scared of him, everyone will be much happier if he just stays away, et cetera. But, by the end of Blood of Olympus, he's come to realize that while some people may be a little scared and even freaked out by him, nobody actually hates him. He can have friends. He can even have a boyfriend. And that's exactly what he gets.
Will Solace doesn't get nearly as much character development. He just kind of pops up and calls Nico out on all of his shit, and then enables bad behavior and rule-breaking when they start dating. So if there was one thing I'd change about this relationship, it'd be more insight into Will's frame of mind.
Edward & Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist)
(Please note: I'm going off of the manga and the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not the anime that's just Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, they are very different.)
This one is kind of weird. Primarily because, while both characters admit to themselves that they have a crush on the other, they never get to the point where they're actually dating before the end of the story. But while we're not entirely sure how they would act in a romantic relationship with each other, we still get a pretty good idea. Edward would continue to be an obnoxious (short) badass, while Winry would call out his obnoxiousness, fix his metal limb when he breaks it, and also be badass.
One of my favorite moments between these two is during Winry's breakdown, when she meets Scar and realizes he was the one who killed her parents. Edward has to stop her from trying to kill him, largely because he knows that she'd never forgive herself for it, even if that execution is arguably well-earned. It's a moment that shows that these two have each other's backs and bring out the best in each other.
Tormund & Brienne (Game of Thrones)
Fun fact: the show's writers never intended for Tormund or Brienne to be interested in each other at all. This was purely the actors and how they interacted with each other without any dialogue in season six. The writers saw that and thought, "Welp, guess this is going to be a thing," and wrote it into season seven (and hopefully season eight!).
Tormund is obviously head-over-heels in love with Brienne. She, on the other hand, does not seem to return his affections at all. But I'm really hoping she'll change her mind, and here's why: Brienne has been scorned all her life because she's not beautiful, she's good with weapons, and she doesn't take anyone's shit. She's grown up in a society that idealizes the women who are pretty, demure, obedient, et cetera. Worse, she's learned that any time a man does show interest in her, he's just making fun of her, or (in the case of the books) trying to win a bet.
Tormund, on the other hand, did not grow up in that society. In wildling culture (for the most part), the women are encouraged to be big, strong fighters just like the men. No wonder Tormund fell in love at first sight: Brienne is a powerfully-built, amazing fighter who's smart. That is the ideal wildling bride. And hopefully, Brienne will realize that all of the aspects that make southern men hate her are exactly what draws Tormund to her and return his affections.
Aang & Katara (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
I am not going to get into the Zutara debate. We're sticking with canon here. (And frankly, I prefer Katara and Zuko as really good friends. He need more friends than girlfriends.)
All of ATLA's relationships (all of ATLA's everything) are really great: Suki and Sokka, Sokka and Yue, Zuko and Mai...but the one that the writers spent the most time on is, of course, Aang and Katara.
For a kids' show (well, "kids' show," just like Pixar is "kids' movies"), their relationship moves at glacial speed, even though it's obvious that Aang's harbored a crush on Katara since the first episode. And while Katara loves him as a friend, she seems pretty oblivious to the romantic side and doesn't seem to reciprocate for a long time. We get a little "did they kiss, they probably kissed" moment in season two, but they don't have a first actual kiss until the Day of Black Sun in season three. And how does Katara react?
She slaps the "pause" button like a whack-a-mole because they're in the middle of a war and she doesn't have time for this shit, a decision that Aang--after some minor protest--respects. He doesn't persistently nag her, or keep flirting with her, or spite-date someone else in the hopes that she'll get jealous. He gives her space to work things out, and doesn't make another move until she instigates.
Also, in the post-series comics, they call each other sweetie. And my parents call each other sweetie. It's just really cute.
Bob & Helen Parr (The Incredibles)
This relationship is so strong it can handle all of Bob's issues in two consecutive movies. First his overwhelming desire to relive the glory days of his superhero youth, and second his jealousy at Helen being able to do that before him. There's obviously a lot of character development that happens with him--and he would've gotten a divorce at the end of the first movie if there wasn't--but if their relationship and commitment to each other had been any weaker than it was, then they wouldn't have lasted.
Also, these movies get huge props for having the main romantic subplot center around a married couple that have been together for fifteen years. Most romances happen when the two characters are pining for each other and trying to start a relationship, or at the height of "maximum drama" (someone cheated, they just broke up, et cetera). While their relationship has to weather some storms, the relationship itself is not the storm, if that makes sense. There's the minor blip where Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her with Mirage, but for the most part, all the problems they face in The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 stem from Bob's personal issues and bad guys trying to destroy the world. Which is a good thing, because everyone knows that beating up the villain of the week is great couples' therapy.
What's the best romantic subplot you've ever seen/read in a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero story? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
I should give a quick update before I let Shannon from Read & Reels take over. A couple of weeks ago I got a second job working at Panera Bread as a delivery woman (well, technically it's my third job; my full-time position is PCA/job coach for people with disabilities, writing is my second job, and now this). At the same time, a bunch of other stuff happened this month:
In the middle of all of this, I realized yesterday, Shit! I need to blog this week, too!
Guest post to the rescue!
Unlike me, Shannon O. apparently has her life way more in order, and managed to not only finish reading a book, but write a review for it, too. Please enjoy while I go out and buy a much-needed planner.
"Slithers" by W. W. Mortensen: Book Review
Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It’s so awesome! Seriously, everyone needs to be reading it!
Today I thought I’d share a review of a Sci-Fi Horror I read recently, called Slithers by W.W. Mortensen!
There are so many things to like about Slither! Perfect setting, a tense atmosphere, wrought with fear, great writing, and good pacing. See what I mean, LOTS of things to like. That said, the ending is so huge and complex, I feel the author should have dedicated more time to explaining it better. I mean, I get the gist, but with such existential ideas to contemplate, readers would benefit from a more thorough conclusion.
This is the first book by Mortensen that I've read, and this one didn't put me off. On the contrary, I'm quite intrigued by his other titles, especially Eight. He's clearly very talented and based on the mood he creates in this story alone, I'm more than keen to read more.
Some other things worth mentioning: I loved all the creepy crawlies in this story. They very much reminded me of King's creatures in The Mist, which is high praise because that is one of my favourite short stories, and the gory scenes were also brilliant! I just loved how vivid and descriptive they were, so well done sir. Ugh... I'm shuddering just thinking about some of them.
Ultimately, I think the theme is about the universal question "What if?", and Slithers is an original, and entertaining approach to answering it. It may not be for everyone but many of you will really enjoy it!
Rating... B or 3.75 Gooey Truck Drivers out of 5!
Thanks again for letting me share on DZA today, it warms my heart to see so many amazing blogs like yours dedicated to Horror and Science Fiction!
Shannon O. (a.k.a. Shanannigans)
Blogger & Publicist
Yay, Shannon! I am definitely adding this to my reading list.
Be sure to visit her blog Reads & Reels. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
My Favorite SFF Books Read in 2018
Christmas was, of course, last week. If any of you readers are like me, you asked for--and hopefully received!--a lot of books for the holiday this year. Never mind that I'm a Buddhist and don't believe in God or their controversial demigods, I will take any excuse to beg for books. And spend time on family, I guess.
For me personally, 2019 seems to the be the year that I should really consider getting an extra bookshelf rather than just piling all the books in my room. But before we move forward, I thought it would be fun to look back on the best sci-fi and fantasy books I personally read and reviewed in 2018.
Note: these are in no particular order. Don't ask me to choose my singular favorite or to even vaguely list them. That'd be like torture.
Another note: these are all books that I read in 2018. While some of them did come out this year, some are a few years older. But they're included in this list because it's my blog and therefore follows my rules of time, space, and physics. Enjoy!
Throne of Glass Series
The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
By Fire Above
Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze
The Nemesis series
What were your favorite books from this year? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to my reading list!
Margaret Fortune: Author of the Spectre War Series
Today we’ll be having an interview with one of my favorite sci-fi authors: Margaret Fortune. I have reviewed both of her books Nova and Archangel. Margaret, thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
I’m the author of two books, Nova and Archangel, which are both part of a series called The Spectre War. Set in the distant future, in a time when humans have spread out and settled throughout the universe on myriad planets, colonies, and space stations, the series tells the ongoing story of an interstellar war from five different perspectives. At first the war seems fairly straightforward, but we soon learn that it’s anything but what it seems.
The series will be comprised of five books, each featuring a different protagonist—Lia, a genetically engineered human bomb (Nova); Michael, a soldier testing weapons prototypes (Archangel); Teal, a student turned resistance leader; Storm, a medical test subject; and Shar, a powerful psychic on the run. Though each protagonist has their own story to tell, every character also carries a piece of a much larger puzzle—the truth behind the war itself. Only when they finally combine their individual pieces will the characters understand the true nature of the enemy and their purpose behind the war. However, once they learn the truth, will it be enough to defeat the enemy and win this war once and for all . . . or will the truth only doom them—along with the rest of humanity—for all time?
The answers will come in books three, four, and five!
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’ve written a lot of characters, each with their own abilities, moral standards, and emotional baggage, but no, I’ve never written one I simply despise.
Part of writing authentic, three-dimensional characters is recognizing that people are never “all good” or “all bad.” As such, it’s important to be able to both empathize with and criticize your characters in turn. If you can criticize a character but never empathize with them, they’re probably not so much a person as a one-dimensional villain, a cardboard cutout there to serve the plot and the main character’s story arc.
On the flip side, if you can empathize with a character but never criticize them, they’re probably too perfect to be real. Even the best people fail at times. They make mistakes, they act selfishly, they do things they secretly know aren’t right. They do wrong things for the right reasons, and right things for the wrong reasons. It’s part of being human. At times, I’m writing and I want nothing more than to give my character a big hug and tell them it will all turn out okay in the end. And then other times I’m writing, and I just shake my head in despair at them, and say, “Oh, this is not a good moment for you.” It goes both ways.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
Things I like the best: Well-developed characters who are flawed but still relatable; clever plot arcs that go in unexpected directions; unique and interesting settings so vivid you feel like you’re there; strong female characters who don’t wait for rescue but use their brains, initiative, and leadership skills to solve their problems; strong male characters who know when to use their hearts instead of their fists, and are all the stronger for it; well-crafted prose that sets a mood or atmosphere; and stories that have me coming back and thinking about them long after I’ve finished the book.
Things I like the least: Wasted potential. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a great concept ruined by poor execution or lack of good direction. Stories mired in tropes, clichés, and stereotypes. One-dimensional characters who are nothing more than vehicles for the plot or concept rather than people. Heroes that are too perfect to be believed, and villains that are so evil they’re cartoonish. Bad or amateur writing, filled with lots of obvious redundancies or errors that could have been easily fixed…but weren’t.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music, or something else?
During the week, I write in the evenings after work. On the weekends, it varies, mainly depending on how many chores/errands I have to do and how much I procrastinate.
Must haves? Well, it helps if I have my laptop! I rarely write by hand. Otherwise, not really. All I need is my brain, my laptop, and a place to sit.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
The short answer is no, my characters don’t control me. All of my characters are figments of my imagination cooked up in my brain, and thus everything on the page is a direct result of what I, as an author, choose to do. That said, as I continue to write, I’ll often discover hidden dimensions in my characters that I wasn’t consciously aware of before, dimensions which may shape what direction the book takes. So while my characters don’t “control me,” the book will evolve and change during the writing process as my characters continue to become more fleshed out and realized in my mind.
What kind of impact do you want your books to have on readers?
I want my readers to laugh, to cry, to think, to be inspired, to turn the pages like there’s no tomorrow. I want them to cringe when they see a character they love about to make a terrible mistake, to grind their teeth when that character is mistreated, and to feel elated when they’re triumphant. I want people to stay up past their bedtimes, to miss their subway stops, and be late to their parties because they have to find out how it all ends. And when the end finally comes, I want them to sit on the edge of their seats and bite their knuckles and say, “OMG!” In short, I want people to enjoy my books, because that’s what reading is all about: having fun. So to all the readers out there, whether you’re reading my books or someone else’s—Happy Reading!
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
I think there’s a rather unfortunate misconception about mistakes, this idea that mistakes are terrible things that must be avoided at all costs. In reality, making mistakes is the way we learn, we grow, and we improve as writers—and people. So often I see writers so terrified of making “rookie mistakes” that they put blanket bans on stuff--Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t use this at all. The problem with banning anything and everything you might mess up is that instead of learning how to do something right, you end up learning to do nothing at all. Instead of adding to your options, you take them away. Mistakes can be painful, but by allowing ourselves to make them, we give ourselves a chance to learn something new and ultimately come out stronger on the other side.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Be honest with yourself. Whether you’re an amateur writer trying to get an agent, a newly agented writer trying to get your first book deal, or a published author whose books haven’t done so well, the fact is that the publishing industry is tough. It’s not easy, it’s not fair, and your relative success or failure in the industry is often largely influenced by factors beyond your control. And succeeding in the industry—or even getting into the industry at all—often requires you to make compromises between what the market wants and what you want.
So it’s important to be realistic about what the market demands and honest with yourself about what your writing/career goals are, which goals are most important to you, and what you’re willing to do—or not do—to achieve them.
If you could go to any fictional world, where would you go? Why?
My own, of course! There’s nothing I’d love more than to see my worlds come to life around me. I want to stroll the halls of New Sol Space Station, watch the shifting pastel mists through the crystalline walls of R&D, and hike through the alien Rainforests of Iolanthe with purple blossoms in my hair and cloudvines around my ankles.
Of course, I’d prefer to do all that some time when the enemy isn’t around…
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
Teleportation. Think of all the amazing places you could go and things you could do. Feel like Italian for dinner? Why not go out to eat tonight—in Rome! Feel like hitting the beach but it’s 30 below and you’re buried with snow? Teleport to Hawaii for a Saturday afternoon! No plane fares, no long car trips—one snap of your fingers, and you’re there. (Plus, if I could teleport to work, I could get up a whole 25 minutes later in the morning!)
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens, definitely! (Not that, as a sci-fi writer, I’m biased, or anything!) Zombies are rather limited—they just moan and eat brains. Dragons are pretty to look at, but it’s impossible to get fire insurance when they’re around…and they have a tendency to eat your pets. But aliens… aliens have got everything! They’re good and they’re evil, they’re sentient and non-sentient, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors, from far-off planets and distant galaxies, each with their own amazing cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. When it comes to the sheer possibilities, you can’t beat a good alien!
Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since. She is the author of The Spectre War series, which includes the books Nova and Archangel. She lives in Wisconsin. (Even though all the cool kids live in Minnesota. It's okay. We love her, anyway.)
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The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!